Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work in Greece
Surely one of Europe’s loveliest places, Greece has traditionally offered plenty of opportunities volunteering with wildlife and on expat or local run projects arranged through help exchange websites. The recent debt and refugee crisis (a word derived from Greek incidentally) bring with them increased demands for volunteer assistance.
Grassroots Volunteering in Greece
The organisations listed below have either got in touch with us to add their details to this or another of our websites, or we otherwise have reason to believe they are actively looking for international volunteers and charge reasonable or no fees to join in, live and work with them:
Hellenic Ornithological Society
Offers both field and office work. Field projects include bird monitoring in national parks, important bird areas caretakers and a raptors migration monitoring observer. The projects can last for a couple of week in the spring and autumn or all year round. The commitment required from volunteers varies from a couple of weeks in the summer to more regularly donating one or two days a month. Some specialist ornithological skills, such as good recognition of the birds of prey of Europe, may be required.
Where: Projects are spread across all of Greece.
Accommodation & Costs: Accommodation and food are provided on some projects in exchange for a participation fee but otherwise pay their own expenses and, for field work, are required to bring items such as a sleeping bag, binoculars, and head flashlight. Participation fees vary for field projects but as an example, two weeks as a raptors migration monitoring observer costs €100, with discounts for HOS members and students, and for staying longer.
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Starfish began in 2014 as a collection of local individuals and international volunteers working together to support refugees arriving in Molyvos, Lesvos Island. They support refugees arriving on the island with a warm welcome, food, water, dry clothes, shelter, information and access to medical support and transport to Mytilene where they can access papers for onward travel. Services run 24 hours a day, over three daily shifts, and volunteers are asked to commit to one shift a day, including a fair share of night-shifts. A minimum of one month is required.
Where: Molyvos, Lesvos Island.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers pay for and find their own accommodation, or are assisted in finding their own accommodation. From time to time Starfish receive donations that enable them to support some volunteers who are facing financial hardship with shared accommodation.
Humanitarian Support Agency
An international non governmental, non profit and non affiliated organisation, HSA primarily serve at Kara Tepe, a transit camp for refugees in Lesvos, providing vital support through the provision and distribution of food and hot drinks, clothing and other items, education and general camp support. They need operational volunteers for two weeks or more. This work can be physically and, at times, emotionally strenuous, working long hours, rain or shine, but you will get to work alongside a great team of committed, professional, and profoundly engaged individuals.
HSA also recruit TEFL qualified teachers to provide beginner, intermediate and advanced English classes to adults. TEFL volunteers should be educated to degree level or equivalent experience, hold a 120 hour TEFL certificate and be able to commit for at least a month.
Where: Lesvos Island.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers should be financially independent. For English teachers able to commit to 12 weeks or more, HSA is able to offer free accommodation. Depending on availability, they may also be also able to offer housing for shorter term volunteers at a rate of €8 per day.
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An independent group of volunteers responding to the humanitarian crisis, Samos Volunteers offer informal educational activities and psychosocial support to help migrants through the drawn out asylum process. They look for patient team players, who are also able to work independently. The timetable, and each volunteer’s role, varies depending on the day to day needs so an open-mind and a flexible approach to work are essential. If you are a teacher, you probably won’t just be teaching. A six week minimum commitment is required.
Where: In the Registration and Identification Center in Samos, where asylum seekers are registered and detained for 25 days after arriving in Europe by boat.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers are responsible for arranging and paying for their own transport, living expenses and accommodation, though dorm beds in three houses in town are available for rent.
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With approximately fifteen volunteers each week, Za’atar works in conjunction with other NGOs, informal settlements, and local Greek government organisations to deliver a variety of services to refugees at their Orange House, the largest of which are language classes in Greek and English. Experienced teaching volunteers should ideally hold an undergraduate degree and TEFL qualifications and commit to six weeks, though longer is better. General volunteers must contribute a minimum of two weeks. Tasks include teaching languages (different from above, no experience necessary), cooking and cleaning.
Accommodation & Costs: Volunteers are responsible for covering their own personal expenses including accommodation. Longer term volunteers are given preference for spots in an affordably priced apartment located near the Orange House.
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Light House Relief
This non-profit provides emergency relief to people arriving to the north shore of Lesvos, and long-term psychosocial support to asylum seekers in Ritsona Refugee Camp, on the mainland, with a focus on supporting vulnerable women and children. Lighthouse Relief has built an around-the-clock team of emergency response volunteers that respond to all boat landings on the north shore, operate day and evening spotting shifts, and work in cooperation with the other organizations to ensure arrivals are supported. Short and long term volunteer requirements, and occasional internships, are posed on their website, with a preference for volunteers with skills, experience and languages.
Where: Ritsona Refugee Camp in central Greece and Lesvos.
Accommodation & Costs: All the costs related to living expenses, transport, and accommodation are borne by volunteers.
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Second Tree is a community led, volunteer run, grassroots NGO that supports, teaches and learns with refugees across Northern Greece. The founders were volunteers that independently responded to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in early 2016. They met in Katsikas Refugee Camp and left their old lives to build an organisation that first and foremost treats refugees like people.
Since then, their team of volunteers has grown, reaching hundreds of refugees through their programmes. Volunteer teachers, general volunteers, coordinators and other roles are available. Remote volunteers are required for some roles.
Where: They work in two camps reaching approximately 2,500 people in the Ioannina and the Epirus region.
Accommodation & Costs: No fee. Accommodation is usually available in a shared house but at certain periods of the year, when demand is high, volunteers may have to pay for their own accommodation.
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Dream of a Safe Haven (DASH) relies solely on public donations and volunteers in the UK and in Greece to provide a safe haven in their shelter for hundreds of homeless, starving and abused dogs that could die without help and refuge. Dog groomers, vets, builders and handy people, and just plain dog lovers are all welcome to pitch in and help.
Hostel Work Exchanges
Many hostels use help exchange networks (see below) to find volunteer staff but the following either advertise on their websites or are particularly noted for taking on volunteers:
Sunrock Backpackers Hostel
We were once enticed over to Pelekas from our Corfu Town residence with the offer of a free lunch by one of Sunrock Backpackers Hostel’s former volunteers and are glad to see this backpacker resort is still welcoming volunteer staff. We only enjoyed one meal from the terrace overlooking the bay but participants in their ‘Pay Your Way’ volunteer programme can benefit from free meals and accommodation for a month or two. Work is available on their organic farm or in the hostel itself.
More Hostel Work Exchanges
AthenStyle now appears to be part of the Safestay group of Europewide hostels and coliving spaces. It’s possible things have changed on the volunteering side of things too, but previously we had them down as offering €25 a shift to EU nationals. Travellers on non-EU passports could earn themselves a bed and breakfast, plus half price on other meals and two for one beers in exchange for 24 hours’ work a week. Previous housekeeping or hostel work experience needed along with a reference.
Other Opportunities to Volunteer in Greece
Greece’s position as Europe’s ‘shield’ has put it at the forefront of the refugee crisis exacerbated by the Syrian civil war. As we write Greek and Turkish police have massed thousands of police to manage efforts by migrants and refugees to breach the Greek border. Around 150,000 men, women and children are waiting for boats on the Turkish coast, a route that took a million Syrian refugees through Lesbos alone in 2015. Many of those are still housed in Moria, a camp thought to be full seven times over and “widely regarded as the worst refugee installation in the world.”
Even in more normal moments several NGOs rely on volunteers in their efforts to aid people held in Greece. Along with the organisations listed in the main section above, these include Project Elea, METAdrasi, I Am You, Campfire Innovation, Happy Caravan and Earth Refugee. Typical volunteer roles are in coordination, marketing, media and communication, fundraising, warehousing and teaching English.
It appears the Hellenic Wildlife Hospital that had operated since 1984 has closed down after financial difficulties. A report in the Greek Observer said those seeking treatment for wild animals must now contact the Alkioni Aegean Wildlife Hospital on Paros, who also rely on volunteers, though for further information we could only find this Facebook page, which is mostly in Greek, and a page on Paros Web.
Englishwoman Heather Parsons has lived on Skopelos Island for over 30 years, where she worked giving guided walks. She still does some guiding work but her focus these days is on reinstating and protecting ancient heritage stone paths and trails. She describes the work for volunteers as tough, tiring and dirty, but rewarding, punctuated by beers at the beach and hanging out with her friends. Her website Skopelos Walks has information on getting involved. One recent volunteer helped out by making a gate from scrapyard metal. Rather than pick a fight with a farmer who had illigally fenced off a trail, they put in a door for hikers to use.
We do not have full details yet, or even if they meet the criteria for this site, but Digital Nomads Lesvos reached out to us with early details of their initiative on the island of Lesvos, where they are offering co-working spaces to socially engaged digital nomads. We understand they already need a couple of volunteers and the likelihood is that they will need more in the future for the projects they hope to grow to benefit the island as a whole.
Help Exchange Networks in Greece
More Volunteering in Greece Resources
Help Refugees – In collaboration with indiGO Volunteers, connects volunteers with more than 50 grassroots projects responding to the refugee crisis in Greece, and also in Bosnia and Serbia..
Other Ways to Travel or Stay for Free in Greece
Stay for free in return for caring for local residents’ homes or pets. Join Trusted Housesitters to live rent free as a house sitter (Americans may prefer this link). Greece usually has house sits available but, if not, you can get a free Airbnb credit from us here.
WOOFING in Greece – Pros & Cons – Gary explores what’s good and what’s bad about volunteering on a Greek organic farm.
Volunteer to Help Refugees on the Greek Island of Samos – While on a six week hiking holiday through the Greek islands J. Kathleen Thompson was convinced to do something to help refugees. She volunteered with both Samos Volunteers, a grassroots humanitarian organisation on the island of Samos that have taken on the job of supplying the refugees with basic survival needs, and with Medicins Sans Frontieres.
Saving Zakynthos: 5 Reasons to Volunteer with Earth Sea and Sky – Nam spent a month volunteering with a turtle conservation group in Greece, inspiring her friend to do the same. Here she tries to inspire us too.
* not all these volunteer experiences are with grassroots NGOs or low cost organisations
Image courtesy Fotomovimiento